ON A day when Falkirk offered the clearest demonstration yet of their faith in youth, it was a wily ploy by one of their veteran opponents that undid them.
Scorers: Morton; Haride (64)
With a cunning exploitation of the modern offside rule, 36-year-old Martin Hardie scored the goal that moved Morton three points clear at the top of the First Division.
Hardie knew exactly what he was doing when he strayed several yards offside as a free kick was about to be taken midway through the second half. By the time the cross had been knocked down, the midfielder was back level with the last man – allegedly anyway – and therefore able to thrash it past Michael McGovern from ten yards.
Falkirk’s defenders didn’t like it, but the “second-phase” rule meant that the goal stood and, when the dust settled, Morton had somehow ground out three points from a match in which Falkirk’s youngsters had played the better football. That they succumbed only to a set-piece, against such physical opponents, was to their great credit.
The contrast between the sides could hardly have been more stark. Steven Pressley, the Falkirk manager, was forced by a series of suspensions to play a side whose average age was 19. Morton had several players, not least 37-year-old Mark McLaughlin, who were twice the age of some in blue. Hardie revealed that one of the Fulton brothers had passed him a message from their father, Steve.
Despite the age gap, there was little to choose between the teams in the first half. Morton’s Peter MacDonald, whose clever turns put his youthful markers to the test, had a rising shot palmed over by McGovern, and a header that drifted wide.
They moved the ball well, particularly down the right, from where Kieran Duffie supplied a couple of useful crosses, and Thomas Grant swung in a free kick that looked to have given Falkirk the lead. His ball slipped all the way through to Conor McGrandles at the back post, but when the latter turned it high into the net from close range, the assistant referee flagged for offside.
Early in the second half, Grant again demonstrated his dead-ball potential with a free kick that Derek Gaston struggled to paw from under his crossbar but, just when it looked as though a spell of Falkirk pressure would give them the lead, they fell behind. That it was a product of Hardie’s experience must have been galling for Pressley and his kids.
Pressley said later that he was frustrated with the result, but not the performance. “We didn’t compromise our philosophy,” he said. “We handled the physical challenge brilliantly for such a young side. It sends out a message that this football club is on the right road. If we can retain our young players and continue to develop them, the club will be in a terrific place.”